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Cyclone Trevor's monster evacuation effort in Northern Territory 'almost certainly saved a life'

By Emily Smith and Rani Hayman, Sunday March 24, 2019 - 23:37 EDT
ABC image
Evacuated residents of Groote Eylandt board a Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules aircraft for their flight home. - ABC

The biggest evacuation effort since Cyclone Tracy has seen all Territorians safely through a category four cyclone and "almost certainly saved life".



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On Sunday afternoon, with the storm passed and as 200 Groote Eylanders returned home, Brigadier Matt Pearse from the Australian Defence Force spoke to the ABC about its role in the massive evacuation effort.

"I've been through floods and cyclones up here, I've been through fires down in Victoria. Each one is different," he said.



"But I think the thing that sticks in my mind here is firstly the leadership and coordination that's been achieved, real teamwork between everyone who's contributing and everyone's been willing to try and help out the best that they can."

"And I think the other thing is the remarkable resilience of those people from the remote communities who have come into Darwin.

"They've left their homes and they've come to a strange location but every time you go and talk to them they've just got smiles from ear to ear and they're grateful to be safe and they're very keen I think to be able to get back home."

He said the Defence Force's role began last week, when the Royal Australia Air Force flew 950 people from remote communities to Darwin, after the Territory Government declared a state of emergency.

Others drove themselves out or caught buses, resulting in about 2,500 evacuations.



As the category four storm made landfall on Saturday morning, it was believed only six people remained in harms way, after they refused to leave.

However on Sunday morning, after the cyclone had passed, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said there had been no known deaths, major injuries or major damage to infrastructure.

Brigadier Pearse pointed to the level of coordination within the evacuation effort, as well as the information provided by the Bureau of Meteorology, that "certainly helped to save life, no doubt".

On Sunday, he said it started returning Groote Eylandt residents — flying two C-130 aircrafts carrying 100 people on each — and hoped to have everyone home by tomorrow night.

"In addition to that Northern Territory Government is getting some support from contractors and they hope to increase that number," he said.

"So the expectation is pretty much by tomorrow night we should have been able to get the majority, if not all, of those people who want to get back to Groote Eylandt to get back home."



Assessment teams surveying Borroloola

Brigadier Pearse said assessment teams were still going through Borroloola, which is almost 1,000km east of Darwin and was closer to the cyclone's path.

He believed power, water and telephone lines had been re-established at the town, and said once the Carpentaria Highway was open, the Northern Territory Government would make an announcement about when residents could return home.



The Defence Force has remained on standby in Alice Springs, as the cyclone petered out into a tropical low and flood warnings were issued.

During the cyclone evacuation effort, he said the Defence Force had about 200 people on the ground.

"But to be honest we're just part of a much bigger team," he said.

"So the emergency services team that's been pulled together by the Northern Territory is fantastic."



Brigadier Pearse pointed to two lessons that had been made clear to him during the past few days:

"One would be being able to proactively evacuate people from an area, I think has been a real plus and has almost certainly saved life," he said.

"I think the other lesson is the coordination that we do every time that we put one of these together, it relies on the personalities of the individuals wanting to work together.

"So we are just very lucky that there's a group of very collaborative, very team-orientated, not only government organisations but other agencies as well, the welfare teams that have supported.

"It has been a real community effort."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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